School board approves budget

$512 million request anticipates 3 percent pay raise for teachers

Negotiations on salaries still in progress

March 02, 2005|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Saying that keeping salaries competitive is its top priority, the Howard County Board of Education yesterday approved a $512.6 million budget for next school year that includes a placeholder for a cost-of-living pay raise for teachers and support staff equivalent to 3 percent.

The Howard County Education Association and school officials have yet to work out the details of contracts for both groups. Teachers and staff personnel are in the final year of three-year contracts that expire June 30.

"We do not have a tentative agreement," said Joe Staub, president of the association. "I understand the board's interest in putting something on the budget to go to the county executive. We haven't agreed on salary or language."

The 3 percent pay raise adds about $19 million to Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin's $493.1 million budget proposal.

Last week, the school board also added about $260,000 to Cousin's request to add golf as a high school varsity sport and hire an additional budget analyst, an internal auditor and a Web master.

"What we added were things that were needed and not in any way grandiose," said board member Joshua Kaufman.

The budget request for fiscal year 2006 - which will be forwarded to County Executive James N. Robey - represents an 11 percent increase from this year's $461 million budget.

School board members acknowledge that they will have to make cuts - as much as $10 million - because Robey wants to keep the school budget from growing more than 7 percent a year.

"When I presented the budget to [the school board], it was lean to begin with," Cousin said.

Board members said the school system has kept its request at a minimum and implored parents and Howard County citizens to support its budget.

"The budget is disciplined in the best sense of the word," said Courtney Watson, the school board chairman, noting that residents expect the school system to maintain its status as the top-performing district in the state. "We need to defend our budget."

Of the total $512.6 million, the school system is seeking $371 million - or $36 million more than this year - from the county. The school system would get $136 million in state funds, which is about $1 million less than what officials expected. The rest would come from the federal government and other sources.

Kaufman expressed concern that county money for schools and other agencies would be unpredictable in light of County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone's intentions to lower taxes under legislation that he plans to introduce in mid-April. County revenues have picked up since the county raised the local income tax rate from the third lowest in the state to the top rate allowed by law.

Guzzone said yesterday he supports Robey's goal of ensuring long-term growth for the school system at 7 percent.

"I can't ever remember a time when the school board hasn't requested a higher amount than what was ultimately given to them by any council and executive in the history of the county," he said. "They have not always received a stable amount over the course of time, which is what the county executive is talking about providing. That stable increase is something that I'm going to do everything in my power to protect."

The school budget for next year includes money to expand full-day kindergarten to 12 more schools for a total of 19, replace textbooks for a cost of $2.5 million, add 208 teachers and create 28 positions for maintenance and plant operations.

The budget also reflects an 18 percent increase in fixed costs for such things as health insurance, utilities and transportation.

Robey will release his budget proposal to the County Council on April 18. Then the County Council will hold a public hearing and a series of work sessions before approving the budget in late May.

Robey will hold a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. March 10 to hear from residents about general budget concerns.

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